Under the Higher Education Support (Charges) Bill, universities would pay a new tax every year to support the cost of running the nation’s student loan scheme.
Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson said the scant operational detail in the legislation “raised more questions than it provided answers”.
“The legislation seeks very broad Ministerial powers to tax higher education providers,” she said.
“This would be a significant change from current legislative funding arrangements. It would place such decisions in the hands of the Minister rather than the Parliament.”
Australia’s income-contingent student loans scheme is the envy of the world for its ability to expand education participation without the barrier of upfront costs to students.
The HELP loans scheme is an investment in access to higher education for all Australians. It ensures the nation has the graduates needed to meet demand in our economy.
Despite concerns expressed from time to time about the costs of the HELP scheme, the majority of the increase in HELP loans over the six years to 2015 was due to VET FEE-HELP loans after the VET loans disaster.
“Indeed, we commend the Government on its announcement yesterday to repair VET-FEE-HELP and fix those specific issues,” Ms Jackson said.
Universities and their students have already contributed $3.9 billion to Budget repair since 2011, Ms Jackson noted.
“Then, last December, universities were hit with a further $2.1 billion in federal funding cuts,” Ms Jackson said.
“Our student loans scheme is the key to ensure wide access to education for all Australians – so we must be very careful not to break it,” she said.
“We would welcome a clearer expression of the Government’s thinking about how this scheme would operate given the scant detail in the legislation and explanatory memorandum.”